Op-ed: On dialogue

We, the members of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), write to update the Tufts community on our campaign to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. After successfully passing our resolution through the Tufts Community Union Senate on a 17-6-8 vote, we continue to pressure the Board of Trustees into action, namely divestment from G4S, Elbit Systems, Northrop Grumman and HP, all involved in a variety of human rights violations in Palestine and around the world.

SJP has reached out to the board multiple times over the past semester requesting information about Tufts’ investments, and following the resolution’s passing, we requested a meeting with the board to discuss the potential of divestment. We were met with the following response from Paul Triangle, Secretary of the Corporation: “The Chairman does not believe that meetings such as you have requested would prove to be productive.”

This came only minutes after the Board’s Chairman, Peter Dolan, sent out a campus-wide email claiming that, “In accordance with its founding principles, Tufts encourages and welcomes respectful expression and debate of all viewpoints from every member of our community in an environment free from discrimination. Such dialogue is essential to how we learn from one another and strengthens our role in society.”

We are extremely disappointed in the inherent contradiction the University has presented. The Board of Trustees calls for expression and debate, yet simultaneously refuses to engage with us. Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine wants to engage in dialogue. That’s why we host Tea with SJP weekly in the Campus Center to talk with the student body about the occupation and our work, in addition to the myriad of speakers, workshops and other events we host year-round. But this dialogue is actively denied by an administration consistently failing to guarantee students’ rights to free speech and safety. If Tufts has true interest in fostering a campus climate of free dialogue, it must commit to this rhetoric with actions such as the following:

  1. Agree to a meeting between the Board of Trustees and members of SJP.
  2. Guarantee the safety of SJP students, allies and senators from intimidation and threats.

We must also remember that these discussions don’t occur in a vacuum. Pro-Israel groups like Friends of Israel, Tufts American Israel Alliance and Tufts Students for Two States are barred by their umbrella group Tufts Hillel from co-hosting or co-sponsoring events or discussions with groups like SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership effectively shut down any chance at cooperation.

Instead, campus organizations often falsely accuse pro-Palestinian groups of antisemitism. Though SJP does not take these accusations lightly, we stand with Tufts JVP in condemning false claims of antisemitism designed to silence criticism of Israel. Smearing SJP with accusations of antisemitism is a defined strategy employed across the United States to shut down campus organizing in solidarity with Palestinians. Pro-Israel organizations attempt to rewrite the definition of antisemitism to include any and all critique of Israel, then use this new strategy to silence calls for Palestinian human rights.

It matters to us when people in positions of power like President Monaco, Dean Solomont and the leaders of Tufts Hillel bring up questions of antisemitism. As Jewish and non-Jewish students alike fighting for collective liberation, we are committed to ending the occupation, ending Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, antisemitism and all other forms of oppression. But when people in positions of power misuse the charge of antisemitism, conflating it with criticism of the state of Israel, they discount the very real problem of antisemitism on this campus, in this country and around the world halting dialogue on the occupation and the liberation of Palestine.

With this resolution, we hope to push our University and our senators to act on their values. As a university committed to protecting all members of the community, Tufts must protect the senators who were filmed during the resolution, or whose names were plastered on Facebook alongside their votes on the resolution. These breaches of privacy directly threaten students’ safety and their ability to enter the state of Israel. They increase the likelihood of being placed on McCarthyite websites that falsely accuse pro-Palestine activists or those who support BDS of antisemitism to attempt to tar their reputations.

President Monaco claims we ought to “enhance our efforts to support and protect our DACA and undocumented students.” If so, then Tufts should actively ensure that through funding or profit, it has no dealings with the companies noted in the resolution, which are violently involved in the racialized profiling, deportation and violence against undocumented communities in this country. Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day was a huge step for the University, fueled by the resilient work of many student activists, but it was a minor one in supporting indigenous populations. Committing to supporting indigenous communities — beyond a name change in a calendar, that is — necessitates that Tufts cut ties with companies such as G4S, whose use of militarized violence against Water Protectors in Standing Rock and other indigenous communities, contributing to the oppression of students on this campus. Currently, Tufts is inconsistent and contradictory with its values, words and actions. Our resolution reflects SJP and JVP’s demands for the university to demonstrate a true dedication to its students and to people all over the world suffering from the violence enacted by these companies, which uphold intimately connected systems of oppression.

Through this letter, we call for a dialogue, one that doesn’t silence marginalized voices, one that guarantees the safety of students and one that truly addresses the power dynamics at play at this University. We are calling on President Monaco, the Tufts Administration and members of the Tufts Community to act upon their “unwavering” values.

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